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Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk

Photographer and Model in front of Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The fate of the landmark Childs Building on the Boardwalk is in limbo as Brooklyn’s Community Board 13 voted 15-7, with 7 abstentions, against the City’s plan to convert the former restaurant into an amphitheater for live concerts. Noise, traffic, parking and infrastructure issues were some of the reasons cited for the “no” votes. In public testimony at Monday night’s meeting, some residents of Coney Island said the plan was rushed, they needed to hear more about it. Others brought up the idea of a Community Benefits Agreement. Community garden advocates protested the loss and relocation of the Boardwalk garden adjacent to the building, which has been active since 1998 and has between 35-50 gardeners.

Boardwalk Community Garden

Community Garden on the Boardwalk adjacent to the Childs Building. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The problem is with less than 100 days left in this administration, time is running out to use the funds allocated for the project. If some kind of compromise plan isn’t worked out, the chance to restore and repurpose the vacant building could be lost. The City has the funds to bring the landmark back to life since Borough President Marty Markowitz will be able to use $50 million set aside in 2010 for a $64 million amphitheater in Seaside Park that was halted by a lawsuit. Since then, his free Seaside Concerts have been held on the Washington Baths site, a vacant lot across the street from the Childs Building.

If the $50 million isn’t spent by the time the Borough President’s third term ends on December 31, 2013, it would go back into the public coffers and be lost to Coney Island. The building’s deteriorating condition is also cause for concern. After Sandy, parts of the facade cracked and began falling off. The sidewalk shed was installed this summer.

Childs Building Coney Island

Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. September 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The Community Board’s vote is advisory only. Their recommendation is being forwarded to the City Planning Department and the Borough President’s Office, which may amend the proposal before sending it the City Council. It is customary for the Council to vote with the council member from the district. In 2011, when the community board voted 21 to 7 against the Parks Department’s plan to make a section of the Boardwalk concrete and plastic, the City pressed forward with the plan and won the necessary approval of the Public Design Commission, which is comprised of Mayoral appointees.

Dreamland Roller Rink

In 2008 and 2009, the Childs Building was used as Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink. August 2, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The City’s plan to develop the former Childs Restaurant building on the Boardwalk and adjacent lot into an entertainment complex with a rooftop restaurant was first reported by NY1 in August 2012 but detailed plans were not made public until April of this year. The property and surrounding lots zoned for high rise condos became part of the portfolio of iStar Financial when Taconic Investment Partners defaulted on loans. The developer plans to sell the building to the City and partner with nonprofit Coney Island USA to manage the programming.

As we noted last summer, it’s been sad to see Coney Island’s terracotta palace by the sea boarded up for the past few years after being enlivened by the Mermaid Parade Ball and Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink. Yet it’s hard to pass by without taking photos of its ornamental ships, seashells, fish and King Neptunes. When a tourist recently tweeted a photo describing the Childs as “the ruins,” we didn’t have the heart to respond. The 1923 Spanish Colonial Revival style building was designated a City landmark in 2003.

UPDATE December 20, 2013:

The City Council approved the development of the Seaside Park and Community Art Center, an entertainment complex and public park at the site of the Childs Restaurant Building. The approval by the City Council was part of a public review process that also involved approvals by the City Planning Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Public Design Commission.

The project will be developed and operated by a partnership between an affiliate of Coney Island Holdings LLC, and non-profit Coney Island USA, Inc., with $53 Million in city capital funds to develop the project, which involves the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Childs building as well as the development of a 5,100 seat amphitheater with a neighborhood park and playground overlooking Coney Island beachfront. Completion of the project is slated for June 2015.

UPDATE October 21, 2013:

There’s a public hearing on Wednesday, October 23rd, at 10:00 AM in Spector Hall, at the Department of City Planning (22 Reade Street, in Manhattan) to receive comments related to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Seaside Park and Community Arts Center project. According to the posted notice:

Comments are requested on the DEIS and will be accepted until 5:00p.m. on Monday, November 4, 2013. The Applicant, Coney Island Holdings LLC, is proposing a number of land use actions to facilitate the development of the Seaside Park and Community Arts Center (the “proposed project”) in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn. The proposed project involves the development of approximately 2.41-acres of publicly accessible open space, which would include an approximately 5,100-seat seasonal amphitheater for concerts and other events. The proposed project also includes the landmarked (Former) Childs Restaurant Building, which would be restored for reuse as a restaurant and banquet facility and renovated for adaptive reuse to provide the stage area for the open-air concert venue and use as an indoor entertainment venue during the off-season months. The Seaside Park and Community Arts Center would be a temporary use of the development site for a term of ten years from completion of construction.

The New Childs Restaurant

The New Childs Restaurant on the Riegelmann Boardwalk, August 1924. Eugene L. Armbruster Collection, New York Public Library

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The Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk

The Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. February 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk, which has been in use since January as the Childs Warehouse, a multi-agency program for organizations that need space for Sandy recovery projects, will host a pop-up market this summer. Called the Coney Flea, the seasonal market will operate from mid-June through October, with proceeds to fund post-Sandy recovery programs, according to the organizer’s website.

Rotating spaces with dimensions starting at 8 x 10 feet are being offered to local and regional vendors at weekly, monthly and seasonal rates. The market is expected to be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Vendors can apply online at coneyflea.com:

Vendor spaces range from $120/day to $200/day. Please mention if you are a Coney Island establishment and include details in the form below, and we can offer you a discount. One of the main purposes to opening the market this season is to help bring life back to Coney Island, and create space for businesses, artists and vendors who have not been able to reopen after Hurricane Sandy. We’re opening too, and just cleaned out our 63,000 square foot site. We know it takes a community to recover, and we’re grateful to be part of the recovery process.

Detail of Landmark Childs Building

Detail of Landmark Childs Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk. February 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“It’s a very special place,” said Dan Compitello of the 1923 Spanish Colonial Revival style building, which was designated a City landmark in 2003. He is overseeing the Coney Flea with a team that he says has a combined total of over 42 years of flea market management experience. Food vendors and arts and crafts vendors from the tri-state area have already reserved spaces, Compitello added. Our impression from talking with him is that Coney Flea will be an artsy, curated marketplace that will activate a landmark and give visitors a reason to stroll westward along the Boardwalk past the new Steeplechase Plaza.

That’s a plus, because despite the fact that Coney Flea is for a good cause we’re not sold on the idea that what Coney Island needs is another flea market. In 2009 and 2011, Thor Equities staged a “Festival by the Sea” of vendors selling tube socks, cellphone accessories, shoes, automotive supplies and cleaning products on lots where amusement rides had previously thrived. Just looking at photos of these previous Coney flea markets induces post-traumatic stress order. There was a smaller, more attractive group of vendors on Stillwell Avenue last year, a dress rehearsal for Joe Sitt’s “Retail Ride of a Lifetime.”

iStar Financial and Stone Harbour Management donate the Child’s Building in-kind to the Childs Warehouse with free rent, utilities and building maintenance. Additional sponsors of the Childs Warehouse are the Mayors Office of Community Affairs, the Brooklyn Long Term Recovery Group, and the Staten Island Long Term Recovery Group. Partners are Transform-US, Occupy Sandy, New York Disaster Interfaith Services, World Cares Center, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Resurrection Brooklyn Relief.

Originally built as a Childs Restaurant, one of the country’s first national chains with more than 100 locations in 33 cities, the terracotta palace is set to be restored and developed into an amphitheater and restaurant by 2015. In past years, the building was used as a candy factory beginning in the 1950s and Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink in 2008 and 2009. Today, tourists routinely ask what are “those ruins” on the Boardwalk?

UPDATE September 26, 2013:

Summer is officially over and the flea market never opened. As a commenter said from the get-go: “Word on the street, this project is dead in the water.” Whether the flea market was doomed by permitting issues or complaints to the DOB about the stability of the building is unknown. After Sandy, parts of the facade cracked and began falling off. A sidewalk shed was installed this summer. Childs Warehouse did not reply to queries and their website is currently down.

The City’s plan to convert the former restaurant into an amphitheater for live concerts is now working its way through City Planning and the City Council approval, though it was voted down by the community board. “Clock Ticking on Plan for the Landmark Childs Building,” ATZ, September 25, 2013.

The New Childs Restaurant

The New Childs Restaurant on the Riegelmann Boardwalk, August 1924. Eugene L. Armbruster Collection, New York Public Library

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Occupy Sandy

Twitter Page for Occupy Sandy’s Warehouse in Coney Island

Last week, Occupy Sandy said goodbye to 520 Clinton Street as their main distribution center and opened a warehouse in the basement of the landmarked Childs Building in Coney Island’s amusement area. Helpavists, as Occupy Sandy calls volunteers, pumped flood water out of the basement, which was still there two and half months after Sandy. They proudly took their first delivery of supplies: 600 gallons of water on 22 pallets from City Harvest.

Located on 21st Street, the site is steps away from the Parachute Jump and across the street from where the Seaside Summer Concerts are held in the summer and school buses park during the winter months. Unlike the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill, the Coney Island warehouse is not open to the public: “@OSWarehouse is NOT a public hub but a decentralized warehouse. Please visit http://www.occupysandy.org & @SandyRegistry to support our efforts!”

According to the Coney Island page on Occupy Sandy’s website: “In Coney Island, the main volunteer hub that we are working out of is across the street from 2828 Neptune Ave. We are currently organizing volunteering events on certain days – but the location is not open regular hours. So, in order to volunteer to help with canvassing and supply distribution in Coney Island, please register as an Occupy Sandy volunteer and we will send you emails when volunteering events are scheduled in Coney Island.”

Designated a New York City landmark in 2003, Coney Island’s terracotta palace by the sea has been boarded up for the past few years after being enlivened by the Mermaid Parade Ball and Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Rink. The rink operated rent-free on the Boardwalk side of the property for two years until 2010, when the high cost of insurance caused leaseholder Taconic Investment Partners to shutter the space. In August, there was news that the City planned to develop the building and an adjacent lot into an entertainment complex for Borough President Marty Markowitz’s Seaside Summer Concerts, but an official announcement has yet to be made.

UPDATE September 26, 2013:

The City’s plan to convert the former restaurant into an amphitheater for live concerts is now working its way through City Planning and the City Council approval, though it was voted down by the community board. “Clock Ticking on Plan for the Landmark Childs Building,” ATZ, September 25, 2012.

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August 24, 2012: New Life for Coney Island’s Terracotta Palace by the Sea

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